Nuke-sniffing Helicopter Deployed to Tampa

 - January 26, 2021, 11:12 AM
(Photo: USAF)

In an activity that seems carved straight out of a Tom Clancy movie, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) announced yesterday that it will use one of its Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) Bell 412 helicopters to conduct low-level radiation mapping and detection flights over Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium in preparation for Super Bowl LV on February 7.

Low-level flights over downtown Tampa and the surrounding area will begin on February 1. DOE said the flights will be conducted at altitudes down to 150 feet agl at 80 knots. The flights will follow a grid pattern and be conducted only during daylight. By calculating the normal amount of radiation occurring in an area, the NEST team is able to quickly recognize unusual levels before, during, or after an event.

DOE regularly conducts NEST flights before major public events, such as presidential inaugurations and high-profile athletic competitions. NEST is part of NNSA’s Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation Program and is an element of the United States’ nuclear or radiological emergency response capability. The Bell 412 to be used in Tampa is based at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and will be crewed by personnel from the Nevada National Security Site’s Remote Sensing Laboratory. It is equipped with a variety of passive radiation sensing technology. 

The 1991 Tom Clancy novel, "The Sum of All Fears," (later made into a movie by the same name in 2002) deals with the detonation of a nuclear “dirty bomb” at the Super Bowl.